Learn about the most popular San Francisco attractions

Learn about the most popular San Francisco attractions


    Used under license from iStockPhoto

    Used under license from iStockPhoto

Union Square is the geographic and cultural heart of San Francisco. The elegant square, built in 1850, is bordered by Post, Geary, Powell, and Stockton Streets. It is where residents and visitors alike congregate to shop, dine, relax, and celebrate. The square comes alike in December with thousands of twinkling lights and a huge Christmas tree and Menorah. The centerpiece of the square is a tall column, topped with a symbol of Trident.

History of Union Square

The Square was laid out in 1850 (pre-Civil War) as a place for demonstrations in support of the Union. The cause -- and the name -- stuck. Union Square has seen many changes over the years. The earthquake of 1906 leveled all but a few buildings. (The major exception being the St. Francis Hotel, which acted as a refuge and hospital during the crises.)

Most recently, in 2002, the square was transformed from a grassy knoll to a paved platform, outfitted with cafe tables and comfortable benches. Most entrances were added to the park to make it more accessible.

Hotels Around Union Square

Union Square has been "the" place to stay in San Francisco since the late 19th century. Accommodations around the Square range from large, prestigious hotels to small European-style inns. Some of the best include:

  • Westin St. Francis - One of the most famous and gracious hotels in the Bay area, the St. Francis offers over 1200 guest rooms and suites, many overlooking the Square and nearby Nob Hill. Built over 100 years ago, the St. Francis is still "the" place to go for upscale accommodations, a convenient location, and afternoon tea in the lobby's Oak Room.
  • Grand Hyatt - On the north side of the Square, the Grand Hyatt combines large hotel ammenities with small hotel friendliness. Rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, free WiFi, and sparkling white marble baths. The top-floor piano bar is a San Francisco favorite and boasts sweeping views of downtown and the bay beyond.
  • Campton Place - This 100-room hotel, just off of Union Square on Stockton, has a classy European air about it. The rooms are well-appointed with marble baths, down comforters, and calming peach and beige decor. The restaurant is one of San Francisco's best; the staff goes out of its way to be accommodating; and the location can't be beat.


Union Square is lined with some of the most prestigious stores in San Francisco. Among them are Saks Fifth Avenue , Tiffany and Co. , Neiman Marcus , and Macy's (the largest department store west of New York City) -- all in one block! Just a block away is the uniquely San Franciscan store, Gump's , a mixture of Asian art, jewelry, housewares, and furniture. Everything in the store is elegant and not all of it is prohibitively expensive . Nordstrom's is just half a block away. Maiden Lane is an alleyway off of the Square, lined with high-end boutiques and sidewalk cafes. One highlight of this short street, once a "red-light" district in the Gold Rush days, is the Xanadu art gallery, which is housed in a Frank Lloyd Wright building. The gallery's brick exterior masks the singular interior, a light and airy prototype of New York's Guggenheim Museum.

The Theater District

Union Square is just steps away from San Francisco's theater district. Two of the most venerable theaters, the Curran Theater and the Geary, are just half a block away. In addition, there is a TIX booth in the center of the square that sells same day discounted tickets to a wide range of theater performances.

Visiting Union Square

Union Square is a central hub for San Francisco's mass transit system. Many bus lines converge on the square and the Powell Street cable car line traverse it as well. The square is also within an easy walk of many San Francisco sights and neighborhoods, including Chinatown and Market Street.

A visit to Union Square is an essential part of any San Francisco vacation. Whether you browse or buy, the shopping is spectacular as are the restaurants, hotels , and people-watching.

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